Will Drivers Apply the Golden Rule to Cyclists?

24 Sep

After two vetoes, Governor Jerry Brown finally signed a 3-foot passing law for California that requires vehicle drivers to give adequate space when passing cyclists on the road. Why were previous versions of the bill vetoed before? Because they weren’t watered down to allow drivers to pass closer than three feet when the driver “slows to a speed that is reasonable and prudent.” Note that the law doesn’t specify whether the assessment of a “reasonable and prudent” speed and passing distance is according to the driver or the cyclist.

Putting it another way, in a narrow lane will drivers slow their vehicles down to a speed that would be comfortable for them if they were on a bike and the vehicle were passing them?

Will drivers to abide by the Golden Rule and do unto others as they would have others do unto them?

Three Foot Passing Law Front

That begs the question: Would the average American driver even consider riding a bicycle given the street and road conditions available today? Sadly, the answer is no, Americans aren’t riding our inhospitable streets that favor people in cars over people on bikes. Most don’t think it’s safe to ride bicycles on our streets.

But that doesn’t mean that when they’re behind the wheel they’ll wait and change lanes to pass either.

Am I the only one who thinks this way? If not, why do you think some drivers don’t apply the Golden Rule?

Three Foot Passing Law


Posted by on September 24, 2013 in Issues & Infrastructure


9 responses to “Will Drivers Apply the Golden Rule to Cyclists?

  1. Frank Peters

    September 24, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Ironically, we need to get a lot more people out on bikes so that motorists will learn to expect them, but progress will continue to be slow. Painting a new bike lane which places a cyclist too close to speeding traffic isn’t going to attract those who aren’t riding today. I think we need parked cars removed from the thoroughfares; it’s the only way to make room for safe cycling.

    • ladyfleur

      September 24, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Removing parked cars or removing a travel lane are both options. A 4–>3 lane road diet is often the better option, like places where left turning cars block the left lane and traffic is faster than appropriate for the neighborhood. Neither strategy is particularly popular with drivers.

  2. georgie

    September 24, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Our Highway Code tells drivers to give this distance when overtaking vulnerable road users. Most drivers dont even know this rule, so you can imagine how many people dont abide by it. But I suppose our roads are much narrower and more winding here.
    I’m pleased to hear it has been passed there and hopefully it will get some drivers thinking.

  3. Darryl Bustamante

    September 24, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Your assessment is absolutely correct on this matter.

    The sad reality is this law will have very little impact on motorists, as the majority of them already view cyclists as a nuisance, with no right to public roads.

    I have written numerous articles on Cyclist/Motorist relations, spoken to numerous Civic Officials, and here in Southern California, cyclists are considered a problem many hope will just go away, without taking up anyone’s time or resources.

    In my humble opinion, unless the California Highway Patrol (CHP), California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) and the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) conduct an active campaign to educate motorists about cyclists, not much will change in the Golden State.

    • ladyfleur

      September 24, 2013 at 9:55 am

      The first step is educating the police force. They don’t even know the laws and yet they are charged with enforcing them. Many don’t know that it’s OK for a bike to ride in the middle of the right lane if it’s too narrow to share, for example.

    • Anthony R (@printtemps)

      September 24, 2013 at 10:12 am

      I mostly agree Darryl, except I think you neglect to address the need for permanent, structural bicycle infrastructure. I’m convinced that rethinking street design is the answer, expecting the this change to take place through education is I fear not the answer.

  4. Anthony R (@printtemps)

    September 24, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I like the point you make here, “the average American driver ” will not choose to get on a bike with the current state of automotive supremacy on the roads. Add to this unsympathetic law enforcement and distracted driving and it’s a basically a fools errand, you have to be committed to the principle to take these risks. That’s why I think of anyone using the streets on a bicycle is an advocate. I chafe for example at some of SFBC’s attempts to “normalize” bicycling, I am much more on board with their publicizing of the need for safer streets and equity for vulnerable street users.

    On a brighter note, AB 1371 law, does seems pretty toothless, but I like to think it signals the stirrings of a mode change. The real change will happen when we see permanent, structural bike infrastructure, not the sop of striped bike lanes, sharrows and “super” green sharrows, so much wasted paint that drivers don’t understand and routinely ignore.

  5. humofthecity

    September 24, 2013 at 10:40 am

    They won’t treat people outside of cars with respect (whether on foot or on bikes) until there is both education and enforcement. People are too used to treating their cars like moving houses, and are never blamed or cited if they kill people as a result. Like any privilege, it’s become so entrenched that the sense of entitlement is even noticed by the people displaying it anymore.

  6. mike

    September 26, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    FYI – ab 1371 becomes a law on Sept. 24 – 2014! Yep, that’s 2014.


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